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Viticulture in New Zealand

The winemaking newcomer New Zealand achieved its first successes with Sauvignon blanc. These usually explode with textbook aromas of gooseberries and fresh grass. However, it is the country's Pinots noirs that we should really be looking out for.

The history of viticulture in New Zealand

The first grapevine was planted in 1819 by the missionary Samuel Marsden in Kerikeri on the North Island. It was chiefly Croatian immigrants from Dalmatia who developed winemaking, especially around Auckland. Some of them founded what are New Zealand's biggest wineries today, for example Nobilo. New Zealand viticulture then spread southwards from here.
The decimation of vineyards by phylloxera, the later period of prohibition and other New Zealand laws greatly constrained the growth of its wine industry. As late as the 1960s, growers concentrated on simple, high-alcohol mass-produced wines. However, an increase in both quality and quantity has been evident since 1980.
From the mid-1980s onwards, New Zealand witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of wineries. Within a few short years this wine boom led to a sixfold increase in the total area of vines under cultivation in the country. The Marlborough, Gisborne and Hawke's Bay regions saw the lion's share of this expansion. Both ecological and oenological efforts led to great strides in quality improvement. This changed the image of New Zealand wine, and in particular the country’s Sauvignons blancs are now very highly regarded.

Geography and climate

New Zealand lies in the Pacific Ocean around 2 000 kilometres southeast of Australia. The country mainly consists of two large islands, North Island and South Island, which are both around 800 kilometres long.
The maritime climate in the far south is similar to that found in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Here the warm South Equatorial Current meets cold Antarctic currents so it's no wonder that French grape varieties have found a home in New Zealand as well. In general winters are mild, and the grapes are not overly exposed to heat in summer. There are differences between the North and South Islands however. For instance, the northern region of Auckland is characterized by subtropical heat and high humidity, while Central Otago on the South Island is significantly cooler. Among other things, heavy downpours can threaten the harvest here. The landscape of both islands includes mountain ranges with peaks up to 4 000 metres high which also greatly influence the climate.

New Zealand's winegrowing regions

The biggest vineyards are on the North Island. The best regions for quality are Auckland, Waikato, Hawke's Bay and Gisborne. Excellent Chardonnays come from New Zealand's northern wine regions, from Gisborne in particular. Red blends produced in the style of Bordeaux are also highly regarded. The area east of Wellington produces some exceptionally fine Pinot noirs.
Marlborough is the most promising area on the South Island. Other regions are Canterbury, Nelson and Central Otago. Sauvignon blanc is the star wine in these New Zealand wine regions. However, Rieslings and sparkling wines vinified from Chardonnay and Pinot noir grapes had already earned the region a great reputation.

Wines and grape varieties

Typical Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties and wine styles are a big influence on New Zealand's winemakers. As winegrowers pay most attention to white grapes, white wines account for 70% of production. Sauvignons blancs from Marlborough are the best example for white wine production as they have become major export hits. European wine aficionados would be unwilling to miss out on these fruit-driven wines with their grassy notes and hints of gooseberries and mango on the nose. Chardonnay is the second most popular grape. The range of varietal Chardonnays extends all the way from young dry wines to more complex examples aged in barriques. Further white varieties are Riesling and Pinot gris.
Red wines come mainly from the North Island, from Hawke's Bay and Martinborough, and are vinified from Pinot noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Refined single-varietal Pinot noirs have proved to be particularly successful New Zealand wines. Producers tend to blend them with Merlot as in France. The best ones are produced in warmer years. A large quantity of mass-produced wines is also made in New Zealand.

Vineyard area and production volume

New Zealand has 38 000 hectares under vine which produce approximately 1.9 hectolitres of must annually.
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